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LAUSANNE - Wrestling will not feature in the 2020 Olympic Games after the International Olympic Committee's Executive Board made a surprise recommendation to drop the sport on Tuesday.
Contested in the first modern Olympics in 1896 and also part of the ancient Games in Olympia, wrestling will now join seven other candidate sports battling for one spot in a revamped programme.
It is unlikely, however, that it will get a reprieve when the IOC session in Buenos Aires votes on the recommendation in September.
"This is not the end of the process, this is purely a recommendation," IOC spokesman Mark Adams told reporters after the executive board vote. "It is the session which is sovereign."
"It was a decision to look at the core sports, what works best for the Olympic games. This was the best programme for the 2020 Olympics. This is not about what's wrong with wrestling but what is good for the Games."
The Executive Board vote comes as a major surprise after other sports, including modern pentathlon and taekwondo, were seen at risk of losing out their place due to their lower global appeal.
Board members were given a report on each of the Olympic sports which provided details on 39 criteria such as popularity, finances, tickets sold and governance, before a secret vote.
"There were different rounds of voting necessary to come to this conclusion," said IOC Vice President Thomas Bach. "It is an extremely difficult decision to take."
"I cannot look into the heads of my colleagues. Such a decision is never based on one single reason. It is always a series of reasons. Of course different members take a different approach."
"The common understanding is the purpose of this was to modernise, to look into the future of the Olympics," added Bach, a potential IOC presidential candidate later this year.
While pentathlon and taekwondo have the support of senior IOC members, wrestling is not strongly represented in the IOC's decision-making body.
IOC sources told Reuters that in the secret ballot there were four sports battling to avoid the cut: field hockey, modern pentathlon, taekwondo and wrestling.
"I am very surprised by the result," board member and president of the International ice hockey federation Rene Fasel told Reuters. "Personally I do not know why but that is what the majority wanted."
The IOC said 25 of the 26 Olympic sports were elected as core sports for the 2020 Games which will also include rugby and golf, making their first appearance in 2016.
Wrestling joins baseball and softball, making a joint bid, martial arts karate and wushu, rollersports, wakeboarding, squash and sports climbing as candidates for the one empty spot.
Baseball and softball were taken off the programme in 2005.
The IOC executive board will meet in St Petersburg in May to determine which of these will be put to the vote in September.
Wrestling had 344 athletes in total at the London Olympics, competing in greco-roman and freestyle disciplines. Women's events were introduced at the Athens 2004 Olympics.
Russian wrestling federation chief Mikhail Mamiashvili was shocked by the decision but was confident his sport would remain in the Games.
"I'm absolutely convinced this ancient sport will retain its status," Mamiashvili, who won an Olympic gold medal in 1988, told Reuters.
"But FILA (the world amateur wrestling federation), the whole wrestling community must take a more active role in the process. We need to make some drastic changes in the sport, make it more attractive, especially for TV audience," he said.
Olympic exclusion will be a major blow to the sport's popularity and financial stability as the Games are a global platform for the promotion of smaller, less established sports.
"It is very unfortunate," Satpal Singh, coach of India's two-time Olympic medal winner Sushil Kumar, told Reuters. "It is being played from the first Olympics and is played all over the world."
FILA, contacted by Reuters, did not want to comment on the decision.
International Modern Pentathlon Union president Klaus Schormann welcomed the news.
"In the last few years we acted and took decisions to make our sport more telegenic and more compact," Schormann told Reuters. "So every good news is further motivation for us."
Madrid, Tokyo and Istanbul are bidding to host the 2020 Olympics with a decision also to be taken in September.